The “Reading The Mind In The Eyes” Test: A Collaborative Critique

Once upon a time, there was this damn test invented by the Baron-Cohen Lab meant to measure an individual’s ability to read emotions from facial expressions. It was kind of a silly explosion. It’s real-life name is the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test,” and as of right now, GoogleScholar says that it has been cited over 2100 times since the “revised” edition was published in 2001. I have always been somewhat skeptical of this test, which 1. Contains only photos of white people, and 2. Includes only photos of young, heavily made-up, conventionally attractive women, whose expressions (according to the test) are “flirtatious,” “fantasizing,” “desire,” or “interested.” In case you aren’t familiar with the work of the Baron-Cohen Lab, they’re responsible for everyone’s favorite “Extreme Male Brain Theory” of autism.

So Dani and I thought it would be fun to get a few snarky/funny autistic women together to…give our more candid assessments of images from this test. The multiple-choice format of the original really cramps one’s style, you know? So I picked out a couple images from the original 36-image test (way. too. long.) and we asked a few friends to look through and give their best guesses as to the “emotional state” shown in each photo. Dani and I contributed as well, and then I went through and added the “correct” answer for each photo, according to the actual test.

This finished product is brought to you by me, Dani Alexis, Kassiane (Neurodivergent K), Melanie Yergeau, and Ibby Grace. And serious intellectual work. Very, very serious things. Seriousness. Critique things. ENJOY.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.43.52 AM

Emma: The oldest and saddest Keebler Elf in all the land.

Melanie: Is this Frasier’s dad?

Dani: If it is Frasier’s dad, why does he look so sad?  OMG, DID SOMETHING HAPPEN TO EDDIE?!

Actual Test Answer: “Upset”

Dani: I knew it.  Eddie’s dead.  I’m so over this show.

Ibby: “How ‘bout this time: Did I do it? Did I raise one eyebrow by itself?”

Kassiane: Sad puppies envy this guy’s eyebrow game though. look at that.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.44.09 AM

Dani: “I asked for Audrey Hepburn eyebrows.  Can you believe this is what they gave me?”

Kassiane: “Not actually interested in you, but if I laugh I may cry & this eyeliner in the eyes is the actual worst. So I’m just gunna keep staring & hope you go away.”

Emma: I believe this is a picture of that subtle, female emotion called “mascara.”

Melanie: “If I blink, I might die.”

Actual Test Answer: “Desire”

Ibby: “We all know you’re the one who farted, so you can quit pretending to sniff the room now.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.44.27 AM

Dani:  This is the “human eyes” equivalent of that life-essence-sucking machine in The Dark Crystal.

Emma: “I am a man with a dark side…No, literally, one side of my face is dark.”

(Emma: WAIT DANI I JUST REALIZED WHAT FIZZGIG [one of dani’s cats] IS NAMED AFTER. wow it has been a long time since i saw that movie.)


Melanie: This isn’t a face. It’s a topographical representation of the Canadian Cascades, with eyeballs superimposed over the mountain terrain.

Actual Test Answer: “Insisting.” (Emma: EWWWW)

Ibby: “Where did I put my contact solution?”

Kassiane: Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.44.53 AM

Dani:  “This party is never. going. to. end.”

Emma: “Oh, yes. I am absolutely making sex eyes at you right now. These are the eyes I make about sex. With you. In fact, I’m thinking about having sex with you so intensely that I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes closed completely, like, really soon. Just so you know.”

(Dani: “Also, I cannot believe she married him.  Seriously.  What.”)

Melanie: “Guess what letter of the alphabet my name starts with.”

Ibby: “Do. Not. Sneeze. Deep breath. Don’t sneeze.”

Kassiane: No dude, I am not interested in you. How bored do I need to look for you to go away? Please just get the hint and go away without getting violent or pissy thank you?

Actual Test Answer: “Fantasizing.”

(Dani: The fact that Baron-Cohen keeps confusing “the glazed look women get when they want mansplainers to go away” with “female sexual interest or desire” says more than I ever wanted to know about Baron-Cohen’s dating life.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.46.34 AM

Melanie: “I don’t always stare longingly into the distance, but when I do, it’s for manly things, like science, or hamburgers with doughnuts for buns.”

Dani: “You remind me of my dog I had when I was a boy.  He was a good dog.”

Emma: “My name is Captain Cowboy Marlboro-Man Hemingway, but most people just call me ‘Dick.’”

Ibby: [Crunch] “Goldurnit. That’s the third pair of sunglasses I sat on this month.”

Actual Test Answer: “Despondent.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.47.18 AM

Dani: If my cat were a human, this would be his expression whenever he saw us roll out the vacuum cleaner.

Emma: The Shifty Smize: Trademark Facial Expression of the Bush Administration.

Kassiane: “oh no, someone has noticed office supplies going missing. do they suspect me? no no no play it cool, play it cool”

Melanie: “My name is Eyes McEyebrows, and I approve of this message.”

Ibby: “Are you going to eat that last slice?”

Actual Test Answer: “Cautious.”

(Emma: Dani, your cat-reading game remains hella strong.)

(Dani: Husband calls me the Cat Whisperer.  I’m actually just fluent in Cat.  Cats don’t give a shit about your social niceties.  Cats say what they fucking mean.  PS: We call the vacuum cleaner “The Dread Sword Kittensbane.”)

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.53.19 AM

Melanie: “My expression is so important that the background behind my head has been photoshopped out of this image. Spoiler alert: There were unicorns involved, and we all know that unicorns disproportionately impact observer bias.”

Dani: “Were THESE the Audrey Hepburn eyebrows you were looking for?  Yeah.  Yeah, they were.”

Emma: “I was looking at something else, and so I have oriented my body so that it is facing the thing I was looking at, but now I am glancing at you out of the corner of my eye, so that I don’t have to actually turn and face you to determine what random fucking thing you’re doing.”

Ibby: “Tell me one more time you want to ‘get you some of that’.”

Kassiane: “I am Bored White Woman Number 3.”

Actual Test Answer: “Interested.”

(Dani: But when *I* give people this side-eye (in order to see them better, ‘cause for some reason my visual processing doesn’t work straight-on), I’m “shifty” or “have an attitude.”  Clearly I need to up my “smoky eyeliner” game if I want to indicate “interest.”)

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.54.41 AM

Melanie: “It was I who ate the rest of the cereal. I, the one who cannot be bothered to say me.”




Ibby: “No really. It was my great great great grandfather modelling on the dollar bill. Here look: I’m the spitting image.”

Actual Test Answer: “Serious.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 9.54.08 AM

Melanie: My gaze suggests you should click this link.

Emma: I see your link, and raise you another link.

Dani:  Seriously, though, I think the only reason I’m reading this as “desire” is because I myself yearn for such mad eyeliner skillz.
Kassiane: I swear this is the same woman as a few pictures up.

Ibby: “Good Seasons Italian Dressing is…delicioso!”

Actual Test Answer: “Flirtatious.”

Just, you know, so we’re all clear on the details: The full, 36-image version of this test has been cited over 100 times a year since 2001, contains entirely white faces, and features multiple other female photos that the test asserts show expressions like “desire,” “interested,” “flirtatious,” and so forth. 




This is a fizzgig.

This is the Fizzgig.

14 thoughts on “The “Reading The Mind In The Eyes” Test: A Collaborative Critique

  1. A) This was awesome.

    B) That guy was totally Dubya

    C) Now I want a hamburger on a doughnut

    D) The fact that Baron-Cohen keeps confusing “the glazed look women get when they want mansplainers to go away” with “female sexual interest or desire” says more than I ever wanted to know about Baron-Cohen’s dating life. —–> That. A lot. Wow.

  2. I took this balderdash pathetic excuse for test a while back and got really angry: How could anyone think this is a valid instrument? How are these guys getting research grants? They’re sucking up money that actual scientists could use. I got a great score because I knew what these clowns were looking for, but not because any of these faces transmitted authentic emotions.

    These are models! If you’ve ever done any kind of professional photo shoot, you will know that your inner monologue and true emotions could be [bored; hurryhurryhurry; if this photographer says “sizzle” one more time I’m gonna…; oh, did I put enough money in the parking meter?; my face hurts from smiling]. I could create a better test with both lobes tied behind my brain. Amateurs. Bah.

  3. I approve of the format of this post because I don’t have the words to describe how amazingly, hilariously bad this is. I had no idea it was this awful. What can you do with it besides snark it?

    I once tried an expression-reading test that was written by somebody with ideas about systematically describing facial expressions, like, Eyebrow Position A + Nose Wrinkle B + Mouth C = happy. And that was also ridiculous, because the list of expressions they came up with based on facial-feature-positions didn’t match up at all with what you’d think of as basic emotions. The end result was that there was absolutely no way to pass the test unless you’d studied up on their particular system of categorizing eyebrow positions etc.
    But at least they were TRYING to be scientific about it.

    The interpretation of the Fashion Model Blank Stare as sexual arousal (“Fantasizing”???) is probably the worst part, yeah.

  4. Pingback: Infodumping is My Love Language vol. 3 | The E is for Erin

  5. Oh my gosh, this is awesome! Great job; I can’t believe I never picked up on that with all the female faces. (The only thing I noticed was that they were all heavily made up, and there didn’t seem to be any old women while there were men old, young, and in between LOL)

  6. Pingback: Double, Double, Toil and Trouble – Double Standards between Autistics and Neurotypicals | Antleader's Journey

  7. I guess if you’re a male who has never, EVER actually been in the same room with a female who actually HAD a sultry, come-hither face you might make these mistakes. I’m vaguely certain that at least one of those faces was actually “I sure am constipated today. Even bearing down so hard that my eyes shut halfway as I gaze into the distance dreaming of a laxative isn’t helping.” Meanwhile that guy is out buying condoms. Fool.

  8. Pingback: Autism Science: The Original Trash Fire, Feat. Noxious S.B.C. | Lemon Peel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s